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beautiful yarrow plants in a field
With large, flat-topped heads of small daisy-like flowers in rustic tones of yellow, pink, orange, red and white, Achillea, or yarrow, is the perfect filler for the summer border. With aromatic delicate green or silvery fern-like foliage, these classy drought-tolerant perennials are worth finding a space for.

What you need to know about yarrow

Name: yarrow, milfoil, Achillea millefolium, A. clypeolata, A. filipendulina, A. ptarmica (sneezewort).

Height: 15cm to 1.2m tall.

Foliage: green or silvery grey fern-like leaves forming a basal clump.

Climate: most temperate climates.

Soil: will grow in most well-drained garden soils, and is tolerant of poor soils.

Position: full sun is preferred, to partial shade in very warm areas.

Flowering and fruiting: numerous flat-topped heads (corymbs) of tiny daisy-like flowers from late spring until autumn.

Feeding: Use a controlled-release fertiliser when initially planting and at the beginning of spring each year.

Watering: water at least once or twice every week during warm summer weather. Can withstand dry periods once established.

Appearance and characteristics of yarrow

Yarrow is a clumping or mat-forming perennial, often with a woody base and usually green to silvery grey fern-like or smooth-edged foliage. The abundant tiny daisy-like flowers are carried on flat-topped heads that seem to float above the foliage. The colour range includes yellow, pink, orange, red and white shades, complemented by newer brightly coloured hybrids. There are tall upright cultivars for use in borders or as cut flowers, and miniature varieties for growing in alpine gardens, rockeries or containers, or for edging garden beds.

Yarrow is part of the Asteraceae or daisy family, and comprises around 100 Achillea species spread throughout Europe, northern and western Asia, and most of North America. It grows in a range of habitats, including grasslands, open forests and alpine regions. Yarrow species are mainly hybrids developed from crossing Achillea millefolium, A. clypeolata and A. filipendulina. Achillea ptarmica or sneezewort has lance-shaped leaves and many double white-flowered forms, including the well-known “The Pearl”.

The genus Achillea was named after Achilles, the mythological Greek who, according to legend, used yarrow to treat the wounds of his soldiers. Yarrow is easily grown in both cool and warm temperate climates in full sun or a partially shaded position in areas with very hot summers. Yarrow cultivars and species are frost hardy and can be easily grown in pots and containers. They are ideal for encouraging beneficial insects, including ladybirds, hoverflies, bees, butterflies and predatory wasps.

close up of a yellow yarrow plant

How to plant and grow yarrow

Yarrow will grow well in most free-draining garden soils, but can also tolerate poor soils. Alpine species require perfect drainage and protection from wet winter rains. Varieties with green leaves are better suited to moist, nutrient-rich soils, but they may become invasive in good soil conditions. Most varieties are quite drought-tolerant once established. Add some well-aged manure or compost before planting to improve moisture retention and drainage in poor soils. A soil pH between 5.5–7.0 is adequate for growing yarrow, and this can be easily monitored with a pH kit.

Use a premium standard potting mix when planting in pots or containers, and water at least once or twice a week during late spring and summer.

Caring for yarrow

Fertiliser

Apply a controlled-release fertiliser when initially planting yarrow, and reapply at the beginning of spring each year.

Pruning yarrow plants

  • Yarrow flowers fade and change colour as they age. This may be undesirable, but regular deadheading will prevent some bright-flowered cultivars from fading to murky shades. This will also prevent excessive seedlings being produced in the garden. The cut blooms will retain their colour when cut and dried for decoration.
  • Flowering stems can be cut down to the base in autumn or early winter, or left to die down naturally.

Diseases and pests

Yarrow is not usually troubled by pests, but may occasionally suffer from mildew. Increase the air circulation around the clump and treat with a copper-based fungicide. Many of the species and hybrids with silvery-grey leaves tend to be relatively short-lived, so may need replacing.

How to propagate yarrow

Dividing yarrow plants

Most varieties of yarrow are usually divided every three to five years during late winter. This is the ideal time to split up the clump and replant the healthy sections. Growing yarrow from cuttings

Cuttings may be taken in early summer with good success.

Growing yarrow from seed

Yarrow sets seed readily around the garden, and these may be dug up and transplanted, although the resultant seedlings may not be true to type. Alternatively, collect the seed and sow in spring or autumn, either directly into the soil or into a tray or pot of seed-raising mix.

If you like this then try

Chrysanthemum: colourful perennials with lobed foliage and masses of intricate daisy-like flowers in a huge range of shapes and sizes.

Verbena: trailing and spreading perennials and biennials with small, dark, irregularly shaped toothed leaves and whorls or colourful flowers.

Buddleia: deciduous shrubs and small trees with arching stems carrying panicles of fragrant, pointed flowers that attract butterflies.

Start planting today

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